Achieving Greatness While Living with Anxiety

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overcoming anxiety tipsIt’s true: you can be happy and live with anxiety. I just didn’t know it at the time…

I touched upon my anxiety in a blog post last year, ‘My Story So Far: Reflecting on The Last Decade’. I posted it when I turned thirty and I shared a series of the highs and lows I had experienced throughout my twenties. One of the major things that weighed on my shoulders was developing severe anxiety that crippled my life for several years. Alongside the sudden breakup of my parents’ marriage when I was eleven years old, those years I spent deep in the trenches of anxiety and panic attacks were my hardest. It’s difficult to put into words how even the most basic of everyday tasks – going to the barbers, standing in line at the post office or getting on public transportation – put a weight on my shoulders that stopped me achieving all that I could. It felt like I had mountains to climb and too often they were peaks that were too high to conquer. My palms would sweat, my heart would race, I’d feel like I was going to pass out. Sometimes I almost did.

Today, however, I want to talk more about how I live with anxiety now and how I lifted this weight off my shoulders and how I overcame this road block in my life, turning it into a high point by finding a positive path forward and not allowing myself to be held back from greatness. I was encouraged to share this story after learning of the Shoulders of Greatness campaign by Head & Shoulders which highlights all of the things people carry on their shoulders – pride, pressure, expectations – and tells personal stories, such as the coming out story of U.S. freestyle skier, Gus Kenworthy, and how they found the confidence to achieve greatness. When I met with Gus last year and talked to him about his story, especially how being in such a testosterone filled sport, it was tough for him to achieve his full potential. It was so inspiring to hear how it was literally a weight lifted off his shoulders when he could be himself and come out.  This resonated with me and how my anxiety had affected my life.overcoming anxiety tipsFirst, let’s wind the clock back to the defining moment that made me realize I had to find the strength to over come my anxiety. As someone who had always been out-going, go-getting and confident it was very frustrating to feel so confined by something I had no control over. From the outside, it looked like everything was going great: I still held a well-paid communications job in London, Bright.Bazaar was flourishing and growing by the day and I was happily in love with my then boyfriend (now hubby!). Yet, inside I was struggling everyday with simply getting myself into the office.

The turning point came when I was speaking on a panel at a design conference in London. I had a horrendous panic attack while on stage and it was one of the worst 45 minutes I’ve ever experienced. Seeing the concerned looks on the faces of my friends in the audience was the catalyst I needed to seek help to bring the anxiety under control. It was a long road and I am proud to say that in the last two years I’ve been almost entirely panic attack free. I’m proud to think that I’ve managed to take myself from the point of not being able to sit in a barber’s chair or get on a train, to moving to and living and thriving in NYC which is one of the world’s busiest cities. Especially when I once had an awful panic attack in a H&M Store (the glamour) in this very city, and I wanted to get out the city and never, ever travel again. Now, I fly around the world alone for business without a second thought and I give confident presentations to clients and large conferences. These are things that back then I would have never in a million years thought I’d be able to do again. And despite living with anxiety, I’ve gone on to build a successful brand and blog with over 2.6 million followers on social media, written and styled two books published in eleven languages and be named one of the top 30 people in social media by Forbes. Knowing that I overcame such a huge challenge and managed to forge a successful career is what gives me the strength to fight other battles I face in life.overcoming anxiety tipsThat said, I know for sure that I’ll carry anxiety on my shoulders in some form for life. And that’s OK. While I’ve managed to overcome the crippling panic attacks and can now live my life much more freely than I could all those years ago, I still have to be mindful of my body to ensure I don’t slip back into those dark trenches. The reason I wanted to share a more detailed look at this part of my life is to hopefully inspire anyone, young or old, who is reading to know that you too can realize your greatness and full potential despite your anxiety. With that in mind, here’s how I try my best to live life to the fullest while managing the weight of the anxiety on my shoulders:

– Openly communicate. If you are suffering with anxiety I promise you (from a place of experience) that the absolute worst thing you can do is not tell anyone. Bottling up your thoughts and emotions might see like the easiest or safest route, but it only makes things worse and the mental pain more intense as time passes. Speak to those you love. Tell them what is on your mind. How you feel. Tell them how they can help. Often its hard for people to know what to do, so don’t shy away from verbalizing what you need. And remember, speaking your truth and fears doesn’t mean you have to broadcast it out to everyone or tell each member of your family. Even just telling one person will help lift the weight of the anxiety on your shoulders. It won’t make it disappear but it will help, and over time if you keep openly communicating with a trusted loved one or friend or therapist – anyone! – then you’ll see a marked improvement in your anxiety levels. Even though I’m through the woods of my worst anxiety levels I still hold myself to doing this on a regular basis.

– Mindful of time. That’s right! No more staying up until 1 or 2am everyday and then getting up at 6am to head back to work. Sure, there’s the odd occasion when I have to pull a few late nights and early mornings back to back (hello, we all gotta hustle sometimes, right?!) but the key is doing this long term is simply not healthy. I did it for many years and while I don’t regret where all that hard work got me, it certainly wasn’t without cost. I now know the importance of work/life balance. The scale isn’t always equal or tipped in the direction I’d like but I’m mindful that I don’t let it tip the wrong direction for too long. I used to work all weekend, every weekend and then crazy hours in the week. It just wasn’t healthy. Now, I take at least one full day off from computer-based work on the weekend and it’s done wonders for my energy and mental positivity.overcoming anxiety tips– Embrace color! Studies have shown that those who surround themselves with more color are proven to be happier. (That’s why I included a series of my colorful photographs in this post – talking or writing about mental health doesn’t have to be depressing or clinical. In fact, the more we make it less about those things and more about what positive changes we can make, the better.) This is one of the many reasons why I decided to start Bright Bazaar, and indeed my #MakeYouSmileStyle hashtag on Instagram, which now has close to 700,000 images added from people across the world. I started #MakeYouSmileStyle because I wanted to document the everyday moments with color that brought moments of joy to my life – and encourage others to share theirs, too. If it’s not color, then think about something that does make you smile and bring more of it into your life. From volunteering to baking to hiking to painting to reading. Whatever it is, make time for it , even if you don’t feel like it before you start – you’ll likely be glad you did once you’re underway!

– Routine. A regular routine is so important for my mental health. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever travel (quite the opposite!) or try a new restaurant. No, what it means it that I give structure to my days and life in other smaller but impactful ways. Everyday I wake at the same time no matter where I am in the world and I banned hitting the snooze button. This helps to keep my body clock ticking on a regular schedule and rids that sluggish, sleepy feeling that aids nothing but negativity and anxiety in the mornings.

– Shed the embarrassment. I get it. It’s not easy to accept in yourself that you are suffering from severe anxiety, let alone verbalize it to loved ones or work colleagues. However, by speaking up and being honest about your feelings and mental health you are doing yourself (and all the other people who are suffering like you) a huge favor. Speaking your truth and letting others understand why you are feeling the way you are, why you are behaving the way you do and so on, this is what allows those that care for you to understand what you are going through. While there is still a stigma around mental health it is thankfully becoming much less of a taboo. Being honest about your mental health struggles not only helps you personally, but it helps move society forward in a positive way, too. And that’s something to feel great about!overcoming anxiety tips– Be accountable. Recognize the signs that you are potentially slipping into a dark place with your anxiety. Maybe it’s continually avoiding social situations. Perhaps it’s a two-week stretch of irritability and sadness. Or, it could be a feeling of unease in certain situations. Sometimes these things might be visible to others around you. If so, let a trusted person know what the warning signs are so that they can be there to help you through those tough times. And the same is true if the symptoms are invisible: speak to someone. It’s important to be accountable to yourself in the first instance by having the courage to speak to someone and tell them you are suffering. Only then can they help. This is an important step in being able to over come your anxiety.

– Just do something. Seriously, it can be anything from exercise to completing a simple household chore like changing the bins or dusting the shelves. I found that by doing regular exercise and completing simple tasks made me feel like I was accomplishing something, which in turn made me feel more positive about myself and therefore helped with my anxiety.overcoming anxiety tipsRemember, often it’s about doing lots of small, positive things in your life vs. one day waking up and suddenly having an ‘ah-ha’ moment and life being completely sunshine and roses. Life is always going to have its tough moments and those of us with anxiety will likely shoulder it in some form for life. However, you can achieve greatness with the right attitude and by gradually making day-by-day improvements to how you live your life. Once you come to understand the push and pull of your mind and how you personally can keep it balanced in a positive place you’ll feel much of the weight lift off your shoulders. I’ve got this and you’ve got this, too. Together, we can have shoulders of greatness.

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